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The History of Samaria, John 4:4-6

Updated on June 3, 2014

John 4: 4 - 6

"Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour."

Nestled in the hill country, along the dangerous route to Jerusalem, lies the little town of Sychar. Jacobs well is there, on the land he gave to his favored son Joseph. Nearby is the more famous city of Shechem, the place where God first promised Abraham this land would be his. Shechem would later become a city of refuge for the accidental murderer and the inherited home for the priesthood. It would see the great nation divided and become home to the new king. The history of Shechem is the history of the nation. Welcome to the heart of Samaria and the setting for John chapter 4.

Deep within the memories of a tumultuous past, lie the secrets behind the rise and fall of a powerful kingdom. This was once a part of the glorious Promised Land. The land that flowed with milk and honey; the land promised to God’s chosen people. This beautiful valley and surrounding hills became the home to the sons of Joseph, the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. This was the area called Samaria. Bordered by the great Mediterranean Sea on the West, the desert to the East, and surrounded by the territories of the other tribes to the North and the South, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh was central to the kingdom. Here they were to live in peace and prosperity, thriving in the new home God had given them. But it was not to be. Instead they turned from God and followed the sins of the nations that God had removed before them.

Perhaps the downfall began with Solomon, the son of King David. Although in reality, their desire to be like the other nations went back much further. Solomon was a man of great wisdom and wealth; until he gave in to the demands of his many, many wives. At their insistence, he built places of worship for their foreign gods and worshiped with them. His heart turned to these foreign gods and the LORD became angry with him. He allowed adversaries to rise up against Solomon. One of the adversaries was his own official, Jeroboam. Solomon tried to kill him, but Jeroboam fled to Egypt until Solomon’s death. Then he returned and led a rebellion of the people against Solomon’s son, Rehoboam. The mutiny occurred in the city of Shechem; the place where it all began. All of Israel had come to Shechem to make Rehoboam king. But in the end it was Jeroboam who became the king and made his residence there. Only the tribe of Judah remained loyal to Rehoboam and the kingdom was split in two. It was now Israel in the North and Judah in the South.

God had promised Jeroboam a dynasty in exchange for his obedience. But he didn’t believe God’s promise. Instead he took his fate in his own hands. He worried that the people would return their loyalty to Rehoboam when they went to Jerusalem to worship God. So he made two golden calves for the people to worship and set them up in his own kingdom. Then he had the people worship them instead of going to Jerusalem. He thought he was assuring his power, but in reality, he was assuring his destruction.

From there it was all downhill. King after king led the people in lives of evil. They followed the ways of the nations that surrounded them. Instead of living in the peace and prosperity that God designed for them, they became as worthless as the people around them. They chose to live their lives in war, prostitution, treason, and murder. They even sacrificed the lives of their children on the alters of their foreign gods. The heart of God broke. This was not what he desired for his people. Over and over he called to them through the prophets, begging them to repent and turn back to his laws of respect, kindness and love. But generation after generation ignored Him. God warned them that their actions would lead to captivity, but they laughed in his face. They did not even turn to him when the other nations attacked. They didn’t return when their prophets performed miracles to prove he was a God of power and the gods they were following were powerless. Judah was almost as evil, but not quite. She had bright spots in her history when the people repented and turned to God. But it never lasted. In the end, Israel fell first. The last king of Israel was Hoshea. He reigned in Samaria for nine years. He betrayed Shalmaneser, the king of Assyria and was caught. The king of Assyria invaded Israel and captured Samaria. For three years he held it captive, and then he deported all the Israelites out of Samaria and brought them into his own kingdom. He resettled the deserted towns of Samaria with citizens from different parts of his own empire. These became the new Samaritans.

These Samaritans brought all their gods with them from Assyria, each nationality adding their own practices to the mix. They did not worship the LORD. When they ran into trouble with wild lions, they reported back to the king that they did not know what the God of their new land required of them. So the king of Assyria sent back one of the original priests to teach them the ways of the LORD. They mixed what they learned from the priest with their own practices and tried to serve both the God of Israel and their own gods. No one really knew what was true.

As time went on, Judah also fell to Babylon and the rest of God’s people were removed from their land. The city of Jerusalem along with the temple was burned to the ground. It would be 70 years before the Jews would be allowed to return and rebuild. When the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem began, the Samaritans offered their assistance. But it was refused. They weren’t good enough to help. So they retaliated by trying to discourage the people and frustrate their plans. This began a feud that lasted well into the time of Jesus.

That is how it came to be that the Jews hated the Samaritans. To them they would always be foreigners who entered their land and mixed the pure worship of the LORD with the heathen practices they brought with them. The Jews treated the Samaritans with contempt and looked on them to be lower than dogs. In turn, the Samaritans weren’t very fond of the Jews either. By the time Jesus arrived, the Samaritans had intermarried with the some of the Jews who didn’t want to live in Judah, causing more prejudice and hostility between the two providences. Samaria was a culture who didn’t know who they were or what to believe. Jesus came into this environment to show them the way and they welcomed him with open arms.

Please join me as I listen in on an unexpected conversation between Jesus and the woman at the well.

If you would like to start this study on John from the beginning, please read The Book of John, who was the apostle John?


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